MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin obtained on Wednesday the support of a majority of Russian voters to continue in power beyond 2024, the vote coming in a constitutional plebiscite that has received much criticism for its lack of transparency and the exceptional health conditions under which it was held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With 63.5 percent of the ballots counted, 77.2 percent of the electors voted “yes” to the constitutional amendments proposed by Putin and his ruling party, according to preliminary data released by the Central Electoral Commission.
The result of the plebiscite is almost identical to that obtained in the 2018 presidential election, when Putin obtained the support of 76.69 percent of the voters.
Turnout was around 65 percent.
With the win, Putin has been authorized to be able to serve another two six-year presidential terms until 2036, potentially making him one of the leaders to remain in power the longest over the 1,000-plus years of Russian history.
Putin, who cast his own ballot at his regular precinct, the Academy of Sciences headquarters, recently said that he still had not decided whether he would run for the presidency in four years, although he did say that one must work and not spend time looking around for successors.
In an almost unprecedented situation, more than half of the voters cast their ballots in accord with “early voting,” taking advantage of the fact that election authorities opened the polls a week ago, on June 25, to try and reduce the crowd size at the polling places at any given time, and particularly on election day itself, and avert a potential resurgence of COVID-19, which has already hit Russia extraordinarily hard.
According to the CEC, more than 50 million Russians went to the polls in the first six days of voting and just four million or so turned out on Wednesday.
The Interior Ministry reported on Wednesday more than 800 complaints over election irregularities, although it added that none of them were significant enough to influence the election results.
That is not the opinion of the political opposition and organizations like Golos, which keep watch that voters’ rights are not infringed upon. In their opinion, neither election observers nor independent members of the election committees could properly monitor the voting.
The pandemic and the ban on campaigning had virtually excluded the opposition from the election, with that cohort of society internally divided by calls to vote against Putin, to boycott the election and/or not to recognize the results of the balloting.
The Communists were the only party with parliamentary representation to reject the constitutional reform, but in the face of the impossibility of holding protests due to the pandemic, they contented themselves with denouncing the risk inherent in holding an election with Russia being the world’s No. 3 country in terms of COVID-19 infections.
Although Moscow a year ago was the scene of the largest anti-government protests in almost a decade, only a few hundred activists gathered on Wednesday on the capital’s Pushkin Square, with other minor protests being staged in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.
Although more than 200 amendments were being voted on, Russians were called to the polls to approve them all in a single package, a situation that blurred the reform into what, in practice, was a referendum on Putin himself, whose popularity is at its lowest point since he assumed power two decades ago.
The vote also highlighted the generational schism in Russia, given that older voters supported without hesitation Putin’s remaining in power, while many younger voters openly rejected it.
This situation was especially evident in the large cities, where the newer generations see Putin as the representative of stagnation.
“I’m against absolutist czars. We need rotation (in power). I don’t know anyone who’d support the constitutional reform,” Maxim, a 26-year-old attorney, told EFE.
On the other hand, for retirees Putin represents stability – that is, an absence of political turmoil, security and the timely payment of pensions.
“Putin is the first Russian leader of whom I’m not ashamed. And, for the record, I’m 80 years old. I’ve lived under leaders who drank a lot or were already mentally sick,” said Moscow resident Svetlana.